PHILADELPHIA — Davey Johnson would not have to sleep on a loss, at least, and would not have to agonize over what could have been for the Washington Nationals. Gio Gonzalez’s dominance had not been wasted, and they had not a squandered an opportunity for a victory at the home of their most fervent rival. But there would be few peaceful dreams for Johnson after Monday’s 2-1 harrowing victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, only a restless night spent thinking about whom to summon from the bullpen when the Nationals have the lead in the ninth inning.
One week after Johnson staunchly stood by him, Henry Rodriguez is no longer the Nationals’ closer. Rodriguez threw three balls to the backstop before he recorded an out Monday, and Johnson pulled Rodriguez mid-batter with two outs to go. Sean Burnett recorded them, the second time in a week Johnson replaced Rodriguez with Burnett. Burnett saved the game, salvaged Gonzalez’s six scoreless innings and allowed Ian Desmond’s solo homer and RBI single to stand up.
(Matt Slocum/AP) - The Nationals' Gio Gonzalez struck out seven of the first nine hitters he faced.
The Nationals (25-17) knocked the Phillies back below .500 at 21-22 and inched back to within half a game of the first-place Atlanta Braves. The Nationals have yet to face the Braves, but against the National League East, one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have gone 7-2. They beat the Phillies for the eighth time in nine games.
Rather than merely celebrate a decisive victory over their newest rival or Gonzalez’s taking over the major league lead in strikeouts or Desmond’s emerging power, the Nationals had to ponder which reliever will close victories.
“I’m going to sleep on it,” Johnson said. “But I’m looking at alternatives.”
Despite a fastball that can reach 100 mph and two devastating breaking pitches, Rodriguez has blown three saves this season, turned a tie game into a loss and twice been hooked before he could lose. He has walked 13 batters in 18 innings and thrown eight wild pitches. Johnson supported Rodriguez, 25, because of his amazing potential. But his penchant for calamity gave Johnson little choice but to move on before Drew Storen returns around the all-star break.
“It’s frustrating,” Johnson said. “I have all the confidence in the world in him. He’s got a great arm. Great stuff. Sometimes he tries to do too much. He gets a little excited out there, and that’s not easy. He learned a lot last year. He came a long way last year and he’s come a long way this year. But he’s not quite there to be the polished closer.”
The Nationals have several candidates to replace Rodriguez until Storen, who saved 43 games in 48 tries in 2011, fully recovers from surgery in early April to remove bone chips from his elbow.
Tyler Clippard has been one of the most valuable relievers over the past two years, an all-star last season. Craig Stammen fired two more scoreless innings Monday to drop his ERA to 1.44 over 25 innings. Burnett began 2011 as a part-time closer alongside Storen. Johnson, though, will not decide on a single closer.